Yes, it’s been a while. But we’re still here and ready to go ahead.
We will continue with Book IV, Chapters 9 – 16.
In this book, returning to Thagaste from his studies at Carthage, Augustine began to teach rhetoric, making friends and chasing a career along the way. Though giving some account of these worldly matters, Augustine spends much of Book IV examining his conflicted state of mind during this period. Having begun his turn toward God (through the desire for truth) but continuing to be ensnared in sinful ways, Augustine wrestled painfully with the transitory nature of the material world and with the question of God’s nature in relation to such a world.
The these sections, be mindful of how Manichaeism influenced his thoughts during this time and how he tries to rectify them now looking back.
Please choose one question for your essay.
- In Chapter 10, Augustine writes about the transience of things in life, especially material things. What does excessive materialism or love of objects besides God lead to emptiness in the end? Or is he being too pious and unrealistic here? What are the benefits of materialism or at the very least, enjoying the ‘finer’ things in life? If we were to become billionaires, wouldn’t we all indulge in bigger houses, mansions, estates, cars, yachts, etc., not matter how God-fearing we are? Is it inherently wrong to go on an excessive shopping spree so if you have all this material wealth at your fingertips- esp. if you are a Christian? Or are we to view material wealth differently here as Christians? Do you become less spiritual the more materially wealthy you become?
- In Chapter 12, he writes: “Tell them ‘He is the one we should love. He made the world and he stays close to it.’ For when he made the world he did not go away and leave it. By him it was created and in him it exists. Wherever we taste truth, God is there. He is in our very inmost hearts…” What are your thoughts on the imminence of God? Do you have any problems sensing God’s closeness or presence to you? Does it come easily for you? Is it a ‘gift’ from people who claim to feel his presence intimately on an almost daily basis? Or is it a discipline to be learned and honed to sense God’s presence daily? Or is this all in one’s imagination? Just how ‘close’ do you believe God to be with you and with the world? Or is he far and distant, almost unconcerned with us and his creation? Why or why not?
- In Chapter 13, he ponders the power of beautiful things. Why does he think beautiful people and or beautiful objects have such a hold on us? (It was a topic that so fascinated him that he wrote a 2-3 volume series on it called Beauty and Proportion as he describes here.) Is it innate within us (i.e. born with it) or is it learned from society? What is the nature of beauty? Why is something considered beautiful, and something not? Is it societal or communal – that is, a society or community decides something is beautiful or not and we come to share that view, or are there universal principles to consider something beautiful or not (like symmetry, harmony, or sexual arousal)?
- In Chapter 14, he writes about his admiration for Hierius, ‘the great public speaker at Rome’ and how he had even wrote a book dedicated to him. What do you believe was his true motivation to dedicate a book to him? Name one person in your life (living or dead) that you admire the most. Why do you admire him or her? What qualities does this person possess that garners admiration not just from you but from others. Augustine later on admits, “I admired Hierius more because others praised him than for the accomplishments for which they praised him.” How much of other people’s impressions have upon your own impression of a person that you admire?
- In Chapter 15, he gives his view on what evil was. Summarize, in your own words what his thoughts were on what evil is. Is it something physical to him? Does it have some type of form or substance to it? Is it an absence of something? Does it have some kind of external existence to it? What is evil’s relationship with God? What Manichean philosophical themes do you pick up here in his descriptions? How does his philosophy of the soul come into play here? What philosophical questions led him away from this view of evil?
- Also in Chapter 15, summarize his theory on how crimes against other people arise. What causes persons to commit crimes? What of self-indulgence and lust? Does our mind have control of them? Or are we all slaves to our passions? What does he think is the ‘default’ state of the human soul in light of this? What does he say can remedy this criminal tendency within people?
- In Chapter 15, how would you respond to his ‘foolish’ rhetorical questions? ‘If God made the soul, why does it err? Then if so, why does God err?’ He used to argue that God’s ‘unchangeable substance… was forced to err, rather than admit that my own was changeable and erred of its own free will, and that is errors were my punishment.’ Does his argument on God’s ‘unchangeable substance’ hold up philosophically? Why or why not?
- In Chapter 16, he ‘humbly’ boasts that he was able to master the philosophy behind Aristotle’s “Ten Categories.” But then he has a change of heart and asks, “What profit did this study bring me? None.” He says that even with all this learning, he still held views of God that were misguided. What made him think that Aristotle’s work as a system was not applicable to God? Do you see this in other intellectuals (or even in yourself), where their great learning obscures or over-complicates, or gives a misrepresentation or misunderstanding of God? Does a ‘true’ understanding of God require some form of divine revelation or not? Do you agree with his assessment that one can still be in the dark about spiritual things not matter how educated you are? Does one need to be ‘born again’ to truly become a Christian and that one cannot gradually ‘become’ or educate him or herself to gain true spiritual insight about God?
We will submit our essays for this Sunday.